Lingle proposes
cap for arbitration

The HGEA director says
the collective bargaining bill
is "ridiculous"

If the state is forced to continue binding arbitration with white collar government workers, Gov. Linda Lingle wants to be able to cap pay raises at 1.5 percent.

In a series of labor bills submitted to the Legislature, Lingle is also calling for shifting health and safety workers into a new bargaining unit (SB 2802); a third bill (SB 2803) would call for arbitration panels to consider more factors in deciding whether to make awards.

The major collective bargaining bill (SB 2801) would allow Hawaii Government Employees Association members to choose either to negotiate with the state and attempt to get as much of a pay raise as possible or to submit the case to binding arbitration and be limited to no more than 1.5 percent.

Ted Hong, chief of the state's office of collective bargaining, said the plan would encourage the union to stay at the bargaining table.

"If you want to engage actively where there is some give and take, then we can trade off, especially when the economy is good," Hong said.

Russell Okata, HGEA director, called the idea "ridiculous" and said putting a cap on binding arbitration detracts from the negotiation process.

"It is anti-worker and unheard of in Hawaii, a state that has always treated its workers and families with care," Okata said.

Hong, however, argues that in the state's 20-year history with various binding arbitration plans, the state has only won twice.

"The dirty little secret with binding arbitration is that there is no limit -- the sky is the limit," Hong said. "If there was a reasonable cap on it there would be a set of incentives and disincentives."

Okata, however, said the state already has the opportunity to negotiate even while binding arbitration is continuing.

For instance, Okata said, the HGEA made a second offer to the state during arbitration, but it was rejected.

"We had a settlement offer to the employer -- offering a settlement that was considerably less than our offer at arbitration. Our employers rejected that," Okata said.

Hong said the state acknowledged the new HGEA offer as reasonable, but said the state still could not afford it.

"They made a reasonable offer, but you have to look at the economic context -- Maui has a larger fund balance than the state," Hong said.

The state's projected $6 million fund balance for 2005 is expected to grow to $200 million in 2006 and then more than double by 2007, according to state budget plans.

Hong said that because of the cash shortage now and the expected increases in the future, the state suggested a four-year contract with HGEA, but the union insisted on a two-year contract.

Hong said the state last week concluded a binding arbitration hearing with the 23,000-member HGEA and they are awaiting the decision, which is due March 23.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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